Everything’s Better in Rwanda Until Someone Kicks You in the Balls

This blog entry about the events of Sunday, January 08, 2012 was originally posted on January 16, 2012.

DAY(S 10-)11: It’s seems rather odd that within the tiny landlocked African nation of Rwanda (which is only about the size of New Jersey), you could have a beach day, but it is in fact, possible to have one there on the shores of Lake Kivu. Situated on the west side of the country — forming a natural border with the DR Congo — Lake Kivu is big enough that from shore it looks as expansive as an ocean. And in the relaxed town of Gisenyi — where I based myself after gorilla trekking — the beaches and warm, year-round tropical climate is like a scene out of the Caribbean.

As appealing as that may sound, I hadn’t planned on basing myself in Gisenyi. I thought that I would have some breathing time before gorilla trekking and would base myself out of the capital Kigali for most of my time in Rwanda, but Gisenyi made better sense; Gisenyi is the base town to start Rwanda’s latest tourism endeavor, the Congo Nile Trail (CNT), a trail that hugs Lake Kivu’s eastern shore — inviting travelers for up to 10 days of hiking, five days of mountain biking, or two days of driving in a 4x4. Before setting off on the CNT, I’d have a day and a half to chill out and take a much needed breather.

“Most tourists stay at the Serena,” Pierre Celestin (a.k.a. “P.C.”) the friendly Rwandan said to me at the Mostej Hotel where I’d checked into.

“[But] this is a nice hotel,” I told him.

“I know.”

Most visitors in Gisenyi — mostly business people or ex-pats living in the African region — stay in the luxurious Lake Kivu Serena Hotel, with its own isolated pool and private beach, but I kept it local and stayed in the locally-run Mostej Hotel (one not listed in the Lonely Planet guide but in my far more informative Bradt Guide). It was only up a couple blocks from the beach and proved to be a good value ($27/night) since breakfast was included, the internet was free, and the staff was very friendly. (They had to be since I was one of their only overnight guests.)

I spent my days of rest wandering the town to run errands, walking on the beach, and checking out the pier where people either used the lake water to swim in or collect as a water source. Although I got a few “Ni hao” greetings, I mostly got by in French when I bought sambosas at the local supermarket, and fried Kivu sambaza at restaurants (little fried fish, similar to gavros in Greece and pescaditos in El Salvador). Most of my nights were spent blogging on the hotel bar terrace, chatting with the staff, drinking Skols and local Mutzigs, while watching France24 international news (in English) and African soap operas.

I also spent time trying to coordinate my bike and guide via phone, email, and text messages for my upcoming Congo Nile Trail excursion.

“You know the Congo Nile Trail?” I asked P.C.

“Oh yes, to Karongi,” he acknowledged. “[Are you going] by boat?”

“By bike.”

“OH!” he cried in amazement; the things foreigners will do for “fun.” “How many days?”

“Two,” I answered. I’d do half the trail in two days, and then go back to Gisenyi by boat.


I didn’t have much interaction with fellow travelers — I barely saw any indie travellers wandering town — until I was walking down the beach one morning and encountered two familiar faces, next to a new one.

“Hey guys,” I called out to them after the recognition. It was Peace Corps guys Mark and Kevin, whom I met the night before gorilla trekking at the Kinigi Guesthouse. Aside them was a fellow member of the Corps, Kirk — all on a short leave from their post in Uganda. They were staying in the dorm run by the Presbyterian Church.

“We’re trying to get something to eat,” Kevin told me. “We’re heading to Tam Tam.”

“Oh, I wanted to check that out,” I said. I’d seen the lakeside restaurant/bar with the funny name in my Bradt guidebook. They invited me to join, but first I asked if we could stop at the bank first, so I could get money for my upcoming bike tour.

I’VE SAID IT BEFORE, and I’ll say it again: If you’re traveling in central Africa with an American Express or MasterCard, don’t forget your Visa. Visa really is everywhere you want to be — even the ATM networks are Visa-only — although the Access Bank also accepted MasterCard for cash advances.

“Is there an ATM here?” I asked the receptionist.

“No,” she replied. I started the process of a cash advance.

But that took forever. Well, forty minutes had gone by with no cash advanced just yet, and I felt a little bad that the three guys had to wait — although they seemed patient and content to just sit and read.

“Can you imagine if you were in the States and they said there was no ATM and only one computer is working?” the witty Kevin commented. Somehow that segued into a conversation about Transformers, G.I.Joe, and M.A.S.K. of all things.

“Wow, I haven’t heard a M.A.S.K. reference in years,” I said, smiling.

After a while, the banker handling my request told me to come back later in the afternoon because the connection wasn’t working. However, we had noticed that one other computer was working (the receptionist’s) — but she was busy on her Facebook page.

LUNCH AT THE BIKINI TAM TAM RESTAURANT, now “The New Tam Tam,” was a casual affair, although it took about as long as it took for me to get a response about my cash advance as it did to get any food.

“I think they just got the fire going,” I noticed, twenty minutes after we ordered.

That was fine though, as the four of us didn’t have much on our agenda, other than to lounge around (our current activity) and maybe see the hot springs on the outskirts of town — springs that hadn’t been commercialized for spa use just yet.

“It’s rare you see a hot springs so close to a tourist destination where it’s not established,” Kevin said.

“Where people are making dinner,” I added. We had read that perhaps it wasn’t ready to be a commercialized spa just yet because villagers used the volcanic-fueled heat to boil potatoes and yams.

“First a soak, then dinner,” Mark said.

Spending time with the Peace Corps guys was good company as it was a bit educational, especially from a Uganda vs. Rwanda point of view. To the uninformed, both countries are just part of a big amorphous “Africa”, but the two neighboring countries are very different, coming from the perspective of Americans volunteering in Uganda. Apparently to them, everything is better in Rwanda.

“[They have cheese here,]” Kevin had raved when I met him two days prior. Rwanda did have a small cheese industry, based out of Gishwati, producing gouda in small delicious wheels, which Kevin and Mark happily put in their sandwiches with delicious sliced meats.

Everything is better with cheese.

As I reported before, Rwanda is somewhat of a Western progressive person’s dream: women hold more seats than men in parliament, the country is virtually litter-free with compulsory clean-up days, safe sex is publically supported, and plastic bags are banned. (I carried my groceries in brown paper bags.) This is all due to what Kristen had called “a dictatorship that works” — President Paul Kagame’s regime that people dare not complain about publicly — which seemed to function apparently; it is the means Rwanda has to remain stable in world society after the genocide of 1994.

A conversation ensued about the things that Rwandans had over Ugandans.

“You mean, like infrastructure?” Kirk said.

They were also impressed that unlike Ugandans, Rwandans planted flowers by the side of the road just for the sake of public beautifiation, and landscaping was maintained — a man was even mowing the lawn — something they’d never see in their part of Uganda.

Sarah, who had been in the Peace Corps before, had said that from her experience, “[Peace Corps] is definitely ‘Posh Corps’ in Rwanda.” The headquarters in Kigali had hot running water, refrigeration, and other basic amenities — luxuries compared to where the guys were in Uganda, which they made out to be nothing more than a lightbulb and a table. Both countries did share a relaxed vibe though — perhaps more in Rwanda — as both countries have been known to be amongst two of the safest places to travel in Africa, because no one really hassles you.

But then, a Rwanda man approached our table with supposed accusations — addressed to Mark, who sported a long redhaired beard. “You. You are here before,” the man said. Mark was confused.

“No, no. No, we weren’t,” Kevin said, getting all defensive, shaking his head. He spoke in his regular American accent in this case, as oppose to speaking in “Uganglish” — a simplified version of English, using verbs in the present tense and a peculiar accent that bordered on South African, which was how most Ugandans could better understand English.

“This is the first time we’ve been here.”

“You leave your shorts here,” the man said. He brought out a big XXL pair of swimming trunks, which he assumed were Mark’s since apparently, all bearded big guys look the same.

“[You must have mistaken me for someone else,]” Mark told him with a Uganglish accent.

It was in fact, a case of mistaken identity, but Kirk had no shame in taking them, so he could take a soak in the hot springs.

I did not go to the hot springs when I parted ways with the guys after our extended lunch; I went back to the bank where I waited another hour or so, only to get the news that a cash advance was not going to happen that day. Not everything is better in Rwanda after all. (I had to resort to my backup Euros instead to pay my bike tour off.)

THE NEXT MORNING, children were going back to school after a weeks-long Christmas vacation as I checked out of the Mostej Hotel. I hopped on a moto to go down the road to a lake village 5 kilometers south, where I was to meet my guide Tom for my bike tour on the Congo Nile Trail. Tom told me that I should just tell the moto taxi driver to go to “la brasserie,” which I did — not realizing that “la brasserie” isn’t a specific eatery, but an entire district around the Bralirwa brewery. (I had failed to remember his more specific directions.)

Without a reply from Tom on my iPhone just yet, I wandered the village, rather lost and confused, lugging my big backpack on my back. I was walking up the hill of the main road and all of a sudden this guy walking down the hill to my left turned around and kicked me right between the legs — slamming his foot right into my testicles.


I stumbled but didn’t fall down as I was in shock about the impact — but mostly I couldn’t stop but be impressed; without any practice, this guy nailed me right in my balls with such precision that I felt its impact for the next couple of hours. (Bike riding didn’t help.)

The angry, possibly drunk man put his bag down, spit on the ground like he was about to pick a fight with me, but onlookers pushed him back as I walked away towards another moto. Random.

“I can’t believe that happened,” Tom said to me after our introductions when I finally met him later that morning. “[Rwanda is one of the safest countries to travel in.]”

I wondered what I had done, or didn’t do, to make the man so upset, but Tom theorized that perhaps it was a case of mistaken identity.

If that was indeed the case, I would have taken oversized swimming trunks over a kick to the nuts any day.

Next entry: Trailblazers

Previous entry: Damn Dirty Apes

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Comments for “Everything's Better in Rwanda Until Someone Kicks You in the Balls”

  • Catching up…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/16  at  05:33 PM

  • that’s some crazy shit… wtf… maybe he thought you were bruce lee… ni hao, bitches!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/16  at  05:56 PM

  • holy crap - some random guy just kicked you in the balls.  That suuuuucks

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/22  at  04:06 PM

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This blog post is one of eighteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Monkeying Around," which chronicled an eighteen-day journey through Uganda and Rwanda in eastern central Africa.

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